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Bipartisan HUMANE Act may speed up deportations

Cuellar, Cornyn join forces, Hispanic Caucus in opposition

WASHINGTON – In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill, Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Dist. 28, announced they will introduce legislation Tuesday to speed up the deportations of unaccompanied minors.

"Congressman Cuellar and I are proposing a solution to the current crisis on our border," Cornyn said.

Cuellar said the legislation "strengthens current law protecting unaccompanied children."

Known as the HUMANE Act, the acronym stands for the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency Act.

Cuellar's spokeswoman said the bill would allow Border Patrol to ask Central American arrivals if they voluntarily want to return home, the same question they already ask those from Mexico.

She said if they want to stay because of a credible fear back home, the children will have the due process mandated by a 2008 law, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

However, Cuellar's spokeswoman said they must still make their claim before an immigration judge. Not only does the bill authorize 40 new immigration judges, it also speeds up the process.

Instead of waiting years for a hearing, she said the bill would cut the waiting time within seven days after the children are screened at the shelters by U.S. Health & Human Services.

She said the judge then would have three days to decide whether they should be deported or allowed to stay.

However, in a statement through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said, "I will strongly oppose any attempts to roll back current law designed to protect the ability of these children and families to apply for asylum."

Despite assurances of "safe repatriation," Caucus members have voiced concern about the children's fate once they are returned to the countries they were fleeing for their lives.

According to the White House, administration officials plan to meet with the Hispanic Congressional Caucus on Wednesday.